Kayla Pawek

Kayla is an Ambassador who studied abroad on the Roman-Greco program

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

Study Abroad has actually been on my mind since I was a senior in high school. I had heard about it through some older siblings of a friend and I decided quite early that it was something I wanted to try. When I first toured CSB/SJU, I remember being particularly impressed with their emphasis on Study Abroad. On the day of my Regent/Trustee Scholarship Interview, they had booths set up for the students and parents to browse that highlighted all of the study abroad program. Being a self-declared mythology nerd and avid pizza enthusiast, the Greco-Roman program immediately caught my eye. This specific program became one of the main reasons I chose to attend CSB/SJU. Acceptance to the program became a goal that encompassed my all of my hard work and excitement throughout both my freshman and sophomore years here at CSB/SJU.

As my sophomore year of college began, I started working closely with a girl who had just returned from the Roman-Greco program. Having heard very little about the Roman-Greco program, I found myself asking more and more questions about her experience, which she was, of course, more than happy to answer. Everything she shared with me - memories, stories, pictures - just reinforced my desire to go to Greece and Rome. I wanted to experience both places side-by-side because of their unique shared history and influence, something which only the Greco-Roman program would allow me to do. But soon I was faced with having to decide which program to choose, Greco-Roman or Roman-Greco. I knew they would both be amazing and I would have a great experience on either trip, but in the end my friend convinced me to apply for the Roman-Greco program. She listed many different advantages that the Roman-Greco trip had over the other one: the weather is nicer in both places, Rome is so touristy that it's easier to do first, the classes in Greece are easier to end with, etc. She did not lead me astray.

t was very appealing. Walking through the Roman Forum or climbing the Acropolis in Athens were things that I have only dreamed about doing. This was an opportunity to make those dreams come true.

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

One of the best things I did while abroad was to volunteer for the Athens Classic Marathon that the city of Athens hosts every November. I didn't have any idea what I was signing up for, but I was placed to work with the Team for the World, the group responsible for cleaning up and recycling the plastic cups discarded by the runners at each water station along the course. The task wasn't glamorous, that's for sure. I had so much water and blue Powerade inadvertently thrown on me that my shoes, jeans, and arms were soaked by the time all the runners ran through our station. It was in this unpleasant state of wetness, however, that I had the most rewarding experience.

As soon as all the runners had passed through our water station, I started walking along the long stretch of road cleaning up discarded plastic cups and bottles. I was alone, exhausted, sweating, covered in Powerade, and there didn't appear to be an end to the work in sight. That's when an older Greek man came over to help me. He spoke to me in very good English, asking me about my education and my life back in the States. He walked with me all the way down the road: we took turns holding the recycle bag and bending over to pick up the cups. He chatted the whole time. I learned that he was a marathon runner himself, having run the Athens marathon more than 15 times. As he got older, he became a trainer, encouraging young adults to run marathons and stay healthy through running. He was waiting at this water station to support one of his runners as they passed by, but when he saw me cleaning up he felt bad just sitting around and watching while I did all the work. I praised his English and he laughed, telling me that he learned to speak English by listening to old sixties American rock songs. When he inquired about my Greek, it was my turn to laugh. I ask him a couple of question in my broken Greek - what was his name, where was he from - and he smiled, answered my questions, and then told me that my Greek was horrible and needed a lot of work. If I hadn't chosen to get out of my comfort zone and volunteer for the marathon, I would never have met that really sweet Greek man.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

It was wonderful, it was an adventure of a lifetime, it was an experience of growth. More than all of those wonderful things, however, my study abroad experience was challenging. Honestly, there were days when it was just plain HARD. I've never had to consistently push myself as much as I had to do while I was abroad. But it is the best thing I have ever done for myself and the best investment I have made in my education.

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

I think the biggest benefit of spending a full semester abroad is that you are able to really experience the culture in a deeper way. Instead of being just a tourist, I became a resident. Spending a full semester so far away from home really forces you to live independently and learn to trust and believe in yourself. Plus, the more amount of isolated time that you spend with your group members, the closer you become.

I developed many new skills that will hep me in all aspects of my life, whether it be in my academics, in my professional life, and in my personal life. I learned how important it is to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I also learned that I really can do anything if I put my mind to it. If I can handle getting lost all over Europe in the blazing heat of summer, while carrying a 50 pound suitcase and not being able to speak the language, I can handle anything. I also learned how to communicate with people who don't speak my language or come from my culture. Also in that vein, I learned how to live peacefully with one small group of people for a long period of time. That involved learning how to deal with conflict head on and how to be assertive but also compassionate.

What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

If you're going to study abroad, don't go into it half-heartedly. Each day will present itself with a new challenge, so studying abroad is not for the feint of heart. Also, don't go into it expecting it to be a semester laying on the beach. Study abroad is meant to push you in ways you never thought possible, so don't expect that it will always be easy. That being said, don't worry too much! People go abroad every single day and most end up just fine. Yes, there are pickpockets, but just keep a close eye on your purse. Yes, Greece is in a terrible economic condition and there are riots and protests going on, just don't put yourself in the middle of one. Use your common sense and you will have the time of your life.

 

Questions?

Do you have any questions about studying abroad in Italy and Greece? Email Kayla at kapawek@csbsju.edu